This trip has been nothing short of amazing. I can’t believe everything I’ve seen in the last week here in the north of England. Today we woke up around 8 am and prepared ourselves for our long trip ahead. We boarded the bus around 9 am and made our way to the site of Birdoswald, a Roman military fort located on the south side of the Roman wall. Here would mark the start of our 7-mile hike along Hadrian’s Wall, ending with the first section of what is often referred to as the nine nicks of Thirlwall. It’s given this name due to the rolling hills and large cliff faces that dominate a large section of the wall. Although the Romans would not have needed to defend this section, due to its natural defensive cliffs, the wall continues to run up and down over these “nicks” and creates one of the most visually striking sections of the wall. This section of the wall also contains the highest remaining section of wall, reaching a height of almost 7 feet. The view from the top of this section of the wall is spectacular. I could not have imagined hauling all of these stones up to the top of these ridges in order to construct the wall, hiking up and down them was a hard enough task in itself.
Walking up to first ridge of the nine nicks is truly daunting. Pictures do not do the steep angle of the hills justice. I imagine myself thinking what the native tribes of northern England and Scotland felt upon confronting such a massive wall. Milecastles are placed every Roman mile, with two guard towers, called turrets, in between each milecastle. Now some people may be wondering what a milecastle is so I will explain them a bit further. Milecastles were small access points located every Roman mile along the frontier of Hadrian’s Wall. A Roman mile is a little shorter than our mile today, approximately .93 to the modern mile. These access points would allow people who were given permission to cross from the Romanized south into the barbarian northern lands and vice versa. A small unit of soldiers would be stationed here number about 30 – 40 troops in each milecastle. They were placed every mile regardless of their location, even if the area to the north was a massive cliff wall, as is the case atop the nine nicks. They resemble small Roman forts and would have been similar to guard towers, called turrets, only differing in their size and contents. Within these milecastles would have been 1-2 barrack blocks to house the stationed men, depending on the milecastle and its location. These soldiers would have guarded the northern frontier and would welcome through its gates individuals who were deemed a non-threat to the Roman south. It dominates the landscape and is something everyone should get the opportunity to see in their lifetime.
The experience of hiking this massive section of wall was an experience I am truly grateful for. Next week we will be walking another 7-miles to the east covering the next section of the nine nicks of Thirlwall, and I can’t wait!